Category Archives: Florida

Yet Another Florida Voting Disaster

Voting started today for the design of Florida’s new default license plate. We’re supposed to have a choice of four not-very-lovely designs, all optimized to be red-light-camera and toll-camera friendly (oh, joy).

Floridians are invited to vote for the design of our choice at a special site set up by the state Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles:

Voting is scheduled to end Dec. 14.

But once again, Florida is having troubles with early voting: the site is down. Figures.

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Wasted Time in Line for Early Voting Cost Floridians up to $190 Million

The question is: What was the cost to the State of Florida due to the hours and hours spent waiting in line for early voting – delays due to misfeasance or malfeasance by Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, and the state legislature (proprietor, Republican Party, State of Florida)?

My rough estimates makes it up to $190 million worth of lost time waiting in line — a cost placed on all Floridians because the state government couldn’t (or more likely, consciously chose not to) make decent provisions for early voting. Please check my math — corrections welcomed.

The basic shape of the calculation is pretty easy: we just have to multiply the following three numbers:

Cost = V * N * A

V = Value of an hour of the average Floridian adult’s time
N = Number of early voters
A = Average wait time

Each of these numbers can be estimated with varying degrees of confidence. We won’t require precision – this is back-of-the-envelope stuff, we’re just trying to get the answer right well within an order of magnitude.

Value of an hour of the average Floridian adult’s time

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage in Florida is $19.591

So V=19.592

Number of early voters

There were 4,469,393 early voters of whom 54% voted early in-person making 2,413,472 persons (approx) who had to wait in lines (the rest voted absentee).

So N= 2,413,4723

Average wait time

This is actually the hard one. For the in-person voters, wait times varied enormously by date, time of day, and geography. I know people who voted in an hour; I know people who waited over four hours. When I happened to look, data from Miami-Dade Elections showed various wait time at different polling places ranging from 20 minutes to six hours. Much of the cluster was in the 2-4 hour range though, so I think we should use those as our range. 4

So, A could be anything from 2 to 4; we should calculate the range.

Cost = V * N * A

Cost = 19.59 * 2,413,472 * [2 to 4]

Cost = $94,559,833 – $189,119,665

Rounding, to two significant figures (this is just the back of an envelope, remember) gives us a final cost range of $95 million to $190 million. All because Rick Scott and his gang foisted this giant ballot on us, and instead of making provisions for extra staff and voting times, cut the number of days for early voting.

(Thanks to IP for asking the question.)

  1. You may be thinking that not every hour spent waiting in line came at the expense of work, But in a hypothetical perfect market, workers will value the marginal hour of leisure at the same value as the forgone wages. Hence, for these purposes, we can value an hour of leisure at the same rate as work. 

  2. Yes, but both the leisure hour and the work hour should be valued at the marginal rate. This $19.59 figure is the median rate. The marginal rate is surely different? Well, probably, but we don’t know how – for some folks it’s time and half, for others a low-wage second job, for still others on monthly pay there’s no salary difference at all. I don’t know how to estimate that, or even what the sign is, so I’m going to ignore it.  

  3. What about unemployed people – shouldn’t we value their time (or lost productivity) at zero? Well, yes if we are calculating lost productivity as opposed to the cost to the individuals actually doing the waiting, feel free to knock off 8.7% from the estimate. 

  4. Yes, I’m assuming the rest of the state was the same as here. I’m open to correction if there’s evidence of systematic geographic skew in wait times. 

Posted in 2012 Election, Econ & Money, Florida | Leave a comment

An Important Vote in Florida: Retain our Supreme Court Justices

The Florida Supreme Court is actually one of the better courts in the land. Now comes the Republican Part of Florida and “Americans for Prosperity” (a front group financed by the Koch brothers), in an attempt to politicize and destroy the independence of the Florida Supreme Court.

Don’t let them get away with it. Somewhere nearish the top of your lengthy Florida ballot vote to RETAIN all three Florida Supreme Court Justices: R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince. Vote YES at 62, 64 and 66. Non-retention would be terrible on its own terms: these Justices have done a fine job. Removing them from office would reward the worst sort of partisanship, the less-than-forthright sort promoted by Koch bros. money.

Non-retention would also set off a power grab — although which set of Republicans will get to appoint up to three Justices depends in part on whether proposed Florida Constitutional Amendment #5 passes. If it doesn’t then the Governor will appoint; if it does, the Senate will confirm. Despite the fact that it could push the court even more to the right, Senate confirmation is actually OK with me. Nevertheless, I’m voting against Amendment 5, and you should too, because of all the other nasty stuff in there.

If you want to know about Good Justices, Unfairly Attacked see the Defend Justice from Politics webpages.

Video by Defend Justice from Politics — a group run by Republican Stanley Tate and former City of Coral Gables general counsel Elizabeth M. Herhandez along with local litigator Rosalyn Sia Baker-Barnes. Read about them at the Buzz.

Previously: Vote NO on Florida Constitutional Amendment 4 and A Bunch of Horrible Florida Constitutional Amendments.

Posted in 2012 Election, Florida | 3 Comments

Citizens Insurance Wants to Turn Me Into ‘Take Out’

Apparently, there’s still some chance to block Citizens Insurance company’s $350M part-loan part-giveaway program that involves a subsidy plan to use my premiums to pay private insurers to take over its policies. On the other hand powerful figures in the state GOP are lining up to support gifts to their friends.

My experience suggests the program isn’t necessary: although the program is not operating yet I’ve gotten my first letter of the post-hurricane season from a new, small, (fly-by-night?) insurance company called Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty (HCI) that has got me on its menu as “Take Out”.

“Take-out” is how Citizens refers to the policies cherry-picked by private insurance companies. And perhaps because I live relatively far from water and thus face less flood risk, I’m the cherry.

These letters follow a form. They have threats about how awful Citizens will be, threats founded in fact if skewed to the worst case. They are opt-out only: do nothing and I will be transferred to the new company about which I know nothing.

When I got the letter, HCI didn’t even disclose the terms of the policy they are offering me. Although the letter contains vague language about covering “other structures,” like gazebos, that I don’t happen to have, and mentions some “coverage options”, the real meat was supposed to be online. I was invited to go online to view financial info and see “a coverage comparison”. There is some financial information about HCI at Citizens’ “Take-out Companies” page, but when I visited last week, there was nothing about policy terms there. Checking back today, however, I find that there is now a summary coverage analysis document. Bottom line: very little difference — for now.

And of course there’s no reason to believe the premiums will be any less with any given company than with Citizens': HCI is required to keep my policy for at least 10 years (unless they go broke first), provide “substantially the same coverage” as Citizens for the first three years, and limit rate increases to 10 percent per policy per year. Such comfort.

HCI’s homepage is not much use to me either. They tell me they are rated “A Exceptional” by Demotech, which is the rating agency for insurance companies too small to get a rating from AM Best. Looking at Demotech’s site, I find that “Exceptional” is only the third-best rating (everyone is waay above average here!), and means that according to some model (about which we are told nothing) Demotech thinks that 97% of the companies with this rating will be solvent 18 months from now. An A rating puts HCI in the top 70% of companies rated by Demotech. Yes, top 70%! (Not surprisingly, the Demotech ratings have been accused of being inflated.)

A little Internet searching tells me HCI just recently doubled in size by taking over policies from HomeWise, a failed insurance company. Was that before or after they got their rating?

Given that Governor Scott’s team, gripped by anti-government ideology, seeks to destroy Citizens Insurance by continually raising premiums and cutting coverage even though Citizens now has the $6+ billion reserves we always were told it would need to be solvent, I might actually be prepared to consider opting out some day despite my earlier reluctance. But I’d have to know what I was getting, and to have more confidence about the company I was going to than HCI has been willing or able to provide.

The track record so far for these insurance startups is sort of what I’d expect:

The granddaddy of onetime Citizens’ takeout companies, Poe Financial Group, was swamped with hurricane payouts and fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in August 2006 after storms caused more damage than it could cover. To pay for Poe, the state assessed everyone in Florida who buys homeowner or auto insurance. Lightning struck again with Magnolia Insurance, which was the biggest participant in a Citizens takeout program in 2009, the year before it went out of business. Another takeout firm, HomeWise Insurance Co., failed in 2011 and its policies were assumed by Tampa-based Homeowners Choice, which is the single-biggest takeout company participating in this round. Scott Wallace, the past president of Citizens Property Insurance, is now president of Homeowners Choice.

Looks like I’m opting out of this one too.

Update (10/11): Great article on some of the pros and cons of opting-out of Citizens from Tampa Bay Times. Where is the Miami Herald on all this? Fun fact: 30% of Citizens policy holders opted out last time letters went out — that’s a lot for an opt-out program. Citizens is cranking up the propaganda to reduce that number.

Posted in Econ & Money, Florida, Shopping | 7 Comments

Vote NO on Florida Constitutional Amendment 4

Just in case you were wondering, proposed Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution is a Really Bad Idea.

Have a look at this analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Florida’s “Amendment 4” Would Cause Tax Rate Increases and Deep Local Service Cuts, Likely Harming the State’s Economy.

Vote No on 4 — in fact, if you don’t want the details, just vote NO on all the proposed constitutional amendments this year.

If, on the other hand, you’d like some nuance when looking at what the Legislature has wrought, please see my analysis of the 2012 Florida Constitutional Amendments. The bottom line is you should vote No on all of them except 11 & 12. I can understand why someone would vote for 2 & 9, but I’m not sure you should encourage this pandering tendency of the legislature.

Posted in 2012 Election, Florida | Leave a comment

I Hope It’s Not Too Little, Too Late

I’m happy to see there is at least a little pushback to Citizens Insurance’s outrageous recent financial misconduct: The Buzz reports that Lawmaker calls for audit of Citizens Insurance’s new $350 million loan.

Posted in Econ & Money, Florida | Leave a comment

A Bunch of Horrible Florida Constitutional Amendments

That’s what the Florida state legislature has served up for the public’s degustation on the ballot this November. Some of these proposed amendments to the Florida State Constitution could seriously damage the state for years to come. Others are pretty naked attempts to whip up the Republican base and get them to the polls in November.

Below I offer you links to the full text of the Amendments, and grade them on a 10 point scale for (Ir)Rationality, Evil, and Pandering. Points are bad.

Florida Amendment 1Health Care Services is a meaningless gesture of attempted state nullification of the mandate rule found in the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). But if the ACA were ever repealed, the amendment would prohibit Florida from enacting Romneycare here.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 10. It doesn’t do anything. So long as the federal ACA is on the books, Amendment 1 is null and void due to the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.
  • Evil: 7. It’s against universal health care, a position which is certainly evil, but Amendment 1 doesn’t rate a 10 because it doesn’t actually do anything for now. Then again, Amendment 1 does have a small residual possibility of doing harm in the unlikely events that (1) the ACA is in fact repealed and (2) the state of Florida decides to copy Romneycare from Massachusetts, or do a state ACA, which are in fact more or less the same thing.
  • Pandering: 10. As this amendment won’t actually change anything, it amounts to a tremendous waste of effort and state money; this is nothing less than an abuse of the constitutional amendment process in the hopes of firing up the base in a swing state.

Florida Amendment 2Veterans Disabled Due To Combat Injury; Homestead Property Tax Discount This amendment increases the homestead exemption for disabled veterans.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 4. The state Constitution is a poor mechanism for this sort of fine-grained tax policy.
  • Evil: 2. These may be worthy beneficiaries, but cluttering up the Constitution with a relatively small tax policy aimed at maybe tens of thousands of people at most in a state as big as Florida is not a good idea. Also other disabled people might be equally worthy.
  • Pandering: 7. If the GOP legislative majority and GOP governor want to help disabled veterans, why not do it via legislation not involving the homestead exemption — which would be quicker and surer? Because this is so much more visible?

Florida Amendment 3State Government Revenue Limitation. This is a ‘starve the beast‘ amendment targeted at the state budget. It stops the Florida budget from growing faster than population increases plus inflation — regardless of what our needs might be, and working from the current severely deflated spending base.

Florida Amendment 4Property Tax Limitations; Property Value Decline; Reduction For Nonhomestead Assessment Increases; Delay Of Scheduled Repeal. This is another ‘starve the beast’ amendment, but targeted at local governments. This one cuts the rate at which assessments on real property can increase from the current cap of 10% per year to 5% per year. It also gives a bonus homestead exemption to so-called first-time home buyers but actually defines the group more broadly to include anyone who hasn’t owned a homestead property in Florida during the last three years. And there are other complex provisions designed to keep ratable value from rising to reflect the true value of homes. Florida Trend says Amendment 4 would cost local governments up to $600 million per year, money that in my opinion they would have no realistic hope of replacing. Which is undoubtedly the point. There is of course nothing in here about what should be cut, what will have to be cut, or alternate revenue sources.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 10. This is much more about killing local government than about helping homeowners. And even as a homeowner relief bill it’s not good policy: Annual 10% increases on the taxable value of a home may sound like a lot, but in fact it is only fair: there are many homes whose rateable value greatly lags the market value because they haven’t been sold in a long time. The effect of further shrinking the cap is to worsen an existing problem: two identical homes will be taxed at grossly different rates if one of them was recently purchased. That disparity means that the millage rate has to be higher than it otherwise would be, in order to make up the lost revenue. The disparity also depresses the market for homes, since taxes on new sales are so much higher than staying-in-place rates. Blocking increases in the assessed value of homes may help elderly people on fixed incomes, but it does so inefficiently — in part because the greatest benefits go to rich people, who have the most valuable, and likely to appreciate, homes! — at the expense of everyone else, especially young first-time buyers. There are far more efficient ways to help seniors on fixed incomes keep their homes. Like Amendment 11, for example.
  • Evil: 10. Say goodbye to local services. Sell off the public libraries. Worry about police, fire, trash. This will also hurt schools, already suffering from budget cuts, but no worries — Florida will give you vouchers for religious schools if Amendment 8 passes.
  • Pandering: 10. Who doesn’t like the sound of “property tax limitations”?

Florida Amendment 5State Courts. This is a mix of good and bad, with the bad greatly predominating. It gives the Senate the power to confirm Gubernatorial appointments to the Florida Supreme Court (I’d say that’s good, however the chips may fall). But it also gives the legislature the power to repeal court rules by a simple majority instead of the current two thirds (I’d say that’s bad). It prevents the Supreme Court from re-adopting a rule rejected twice by the legislature (I can see both sides of this, but on balance don’t think I like it). It changes the way the legislature can tinker with the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s rules to increase legislative power (clearly bad). Makes legislative witch hunts against Justices easier by increasing the House Speaker’s access to the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s files (very bad).

  • (Ir)Rationality: 4. There’s an evil logic at work here, but many of the changes other than the last one can be defended as increasing popular control (via the legislature) over the judiciary. Unlike most academics, I’m not against that. I do think, however, that the fine-grained level of the proposed intrusions is bad for the courts and bad for the public.
  • Evil: 8. What this is really about is intimidating Justices, and reducing access to courts for regular people.
  • Pandering: 2. This will read to most voters as technical. I don’t think this is a hot button issue for most people other than insurance company lawyers and the most ardent right-to-life voters.

Florida Amendment 6 – Prohibition On Public Funding Of Abortions; Construction Of Abortion Rights. There is at present no public funding of abortions, so this is another amendment whose main feature doesn’t actually change anything. This amendment would, however, entrench current policy against future popular majorities. Worse, by exempting abortions from the Florida Constitution’s privacy clause, the amendment would allow the legislature to enact a parental consent law twice held unconstitutional by the the Florida Supreme Court.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 0. Even though part of this is about entrenching a policy that doesn’t seem likely to change, it’s hard to call this amendment irrational since at least the anti-privacy part does have a real effect, one that could not be achieved without a constitutional amendment.
  • Evil: 10. Another attack on women’s rights, with extra added attacks on women’s privacy.
  • Pandering: 10. Surely the biggest get-out-the-vote amendment on the ballot, driven by a headline “Prohibition On Public Funding Of Abortions” which is about the part of the amendment that doesn’t actually change anything (at present).

Florida Amendment 7 – There is no longer an Amendment 7, as it fell by the wayside, making it feel like one of the best of the proposed Constitutional Amendments simply by virtue of not being on the ballot.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 1. One point for using up a number doing nothing.
  • Evil: 0.
  • Pandering: 0.

Florida Amendment 8 – Religious Freedom. The key words here are “deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” In other words, let’s undermine the separation between church and state — in particular let’s subsidize religious schools. (Will anyone campaign against this by pointing out that the state will have to offer subsidies to Islamic schools — Madrassas! — too? Probably not.)

  • (Ir)Rationality: 5. The First Amendment to the US Constitution doesn’t prevent vouchers that parents can spend for religious schooling. This amendment to the Florida constitution would smooth the way towards introducing such a voucher system in Florida.
  • Evil: 8. This is part of the campaign against public education. The more middle class parents can be encouraged to leave the public schools, the easier it will be to starve them too. Vouchers do some good for poor families that want a religious option, but they also work as a subsidy to people who do not need the subsidy. More generally, I don’t think we win by eroding the church/state divide.
  • Pandering: 10. “Religious Freedom” sounds good, doesn’t it? We’re all for that. I’m actually surprised they got away with calling it that, given that the amendment is really about allowing state subsidies to religious institutions.

Florida Amendment 9 – Homestead Property Tax Exemption For Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder. Much like Amendment 2: with a somewhat larger but still arbitrary class of beneficiaries.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 4. See Amendment 2.
  • Evil: 2. See Amendment 2.
  • Pandering: 8. Slightly more pandering than Amendment 2, since it is about widows (what about orphans, darn it?).

Florida Amendment 10 – Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption. This would prevent counties, municipalities, school districts, and other local governments from taxing “tangible personal property” with a total assessed value over $25,000 but less than $50,000. This is a tax break for small businesses that are required to pay local taxes on computers and other equipment. Florida Trend says about 150,000 businesses would benefit from doubling the current $25K cap, and local governments would lose $20+ million per year.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 1. Small change.
  • Evil: 2. Small change.
  • Pandering: 5. I bet some businesses will be happier about saving on the paperwork than the $133 average they will save per firm. Perhaps some low-information voters will think this is about taxing them for their boats or expensive cars?

Florida Amendment 11 – Additional Homestead Exemption; Low-Income Seniors Who Maintain Long-Term Residency On Property; Equal To Assessed Value. This one would allow the Legislature to “allow counties and municipalities to grant an additional homestead tax exemption equal to the assessed value of homestead property if the property has a just value less than $250,000 to an owner who has maintained permanent residency on the property for not less than 25 years, who has attained age 65, and who has a low household income as defined by general law.”

  • (Ir)Rationality: 0. This one actually makes some sense. And the cost is very small: $9 million or so per year.
  • Evil: 0
  • Pandering: 0

Florida Amendment 12 – Appointment Of Student Body President To Board Of Governors Of The State University System. Currently students at FSU are cut out from participating in the selection of the student member of the Board of Governors of Florida’s State University System because FSU isn’t a member of the Florida Student Association, whose president has served ex offico. This amendment fixes the FSU problem, but at the price of cutting out the current intermediary, the Florida Student Association, entirely. Instead, the Board of Governors will have to set up a new body to serve as the intermediary that picks the student representative. While enfranchising FSU seems like a no-brainer, neither the prospect of duplication of functions nor the prospect of a standalone body whose sole function is to elect one of its own to be the Board member is particularly appealing. I suspect this will not enhance student representation.

  • (Ir)Rationality: 3. A lousy solution to a real problem.
  • Evil: 2. Surely there was a better way to solve this?
  • Pandering: 0. Whatever you think of the solution, it is a real problem.
Posted in 2012 Election, Florida | 4 Comments